When you get to know me better, you’ll discover that I am very patriotic. Very, very patriotic. And I took the terrorist attacks of 9/11 very much to heart.
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 was approaching, I perceived that there was a need for members of this community to personally express their pent-up and as yet unresolved emotions regarding the losses we Americans had suffered on that truly terrible day. So I called a press conference at Southwest Florida International Airport, arranged for an honor guard, invited some people, and extended an invitation to area residents and visitors to paint the names of the more than 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks on a 10 by 18 foot canvas that I planned to turn into a commemorative artwork during a ceremony taking place at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre on the tenth anniversary of the attacks.
To give as many people as possible a chance to participate in this community-wide, community-based art project, I launched an ambitious 12-week long tour during which I took the canvas to locations throughout Southwest Florida beginning with the Franklin Shops on First during July’s Fort Myers Art Walk and the Red, White and Boom in Cape Coral on the Fourth of July.
After that, my husband, Mike Silberg, and I took the canvas to Naples’ Dennison-Moran Gallery (August 7), Fox 4 Morning Blend (August 12), Iberia Bank in Cape Coral (August 12), Sam Galloway Ford in Fort Myers (August 13), The Shell Factory (August 14), Fort Myers Fire Station No. 6 on Veronica Shoemaker (August 18), Hotel Indigo in the River District (August 20), Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens in Sanibel (August 21), Sip and Send in Cape Coral (August 25 and 26), Bubba’s Roadhouse in Cape Coral and the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre on September 11th.
The reception was overwhelming. Many tears were shed. So, so many tears.
A surprisingly large number of those who came to these locations lost a friend or family member in the attacks. Some people came with a list of names of people they’d lost. So the names of some of the victims were been painted twice, but we didn’t care. And those who selected names at random from a glass bowl often forged bonds with the person whose name they chose. They’d go home and Google the person’s name to learn more about him or her.
I had planned to use the canvas with all the names as an underpainting for an American Eagle. From the outset, I’d intended to engraft the eagle over the names during a Paint Out Loud performance on September 11 at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, leaving the ghost of the names show through. But over the course of the weeks spent traveling with the canvas and meeting people who lost friends and relatives during the attacks and seeing how people reacted while painting victims’ names on the canvas, well, the names became so sacred that I just couldn’t paint over them. While the 9/11 victims will always be part of the fabric of America, they also deserved a canvas of their own. So I did a separate painting of an American Eagle instead and, voila, one commemorative became two.
The American Eagle I painted live at the Broadway Palm now hangs in the library at Florida Gulf Coast University, where it is part of their permanent portable works collection. It serves as a reminder of the fragility of life and the heroism of all those who took action that day in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
In spite of our too-often polarized politics, all Americans are bound together by love of flag, love of country and love of our fellow country men and women. And so it is my hope and desire that from its perch high above the library floor, Remember 9-11 Tenth Year will inspire students for years to come to dedicate themselves to compassion, community and country.
And the canvas with the victims’ names? I cannot bear to part with it. But I did bring it out and place it on exhibit this past January in my ten-year retrospective at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in the downtown Fort Myers River District.